A Cruise on the Rhine River

Rhine river valley castle

“Ow! That’s my foot!” I yelled.  The big SUV had rolled slowly forward.  I was standing outside the right rear passenger seat, reaching into my bag to grab some trash to throw away.  We had stopped at a gas station to get some gas and snacks.

The revolving tire pinned my foot to the ground for a second, then released it.  The big toe on my left foot started throbbing.


We had been having a great day touring the Rhine River Valley.  We were staying with friends outside of Düsseldorf, Germany.  Marc and his friend Christian were taking us down to the region south of Koblenz where the best part of the Rhine is.  Marc’s wife had to stay home to take care of their small children.

We barreled down the autobahn going 140 km/hr.  It was nice to relax in the backseat for a change instead of driving or navigating in a foreign country.  Having knowledgeable locals as our tour guides was a nice treat.  They had already looked up the necessary information for the day.  Our plan was to see the castles along the Rhine.

Rhine river valley castle
A castle on the Rhine River

We went to a small town on the Rhine called St. Goar.  The Koln-Düsseldorf (K-D) river cruise line stops at several towns along the Rhine, but the part of the river between St. Goar and Bacharach has the best castles.  We got on the boat in St. Goar after leaving our car in a parking lot near the dock.  The boat was crowded with German retirees and a handful of American tourists.  It was a splendid late summer day, sunny and warm.

The boat was an old side-paddle wheeler built in 1907.  It had a full restaurant and bar inside, but we pushed our way through the crowd to get outside to the front of the boat.  The deck chairs in the bow would give us the best views of the castles built into the hillsides above the Rhine.

Rhine castle
Hello! Anyone home?

The castles were built in the 12th and 13th centuries by enterprising families who made their fortunes by controlling the river traffic on the Rhine.  They would stretch a chain across the river and stop boats trying to go past.  The river was the main transportation channel in the region and the boats carried all the goods of the medieval economy.  As the families grew richer from their toll booths, they built castles to live in and to protect themselves and their business interests.

Some of the castles are just ruins today, but many castles still look magnificent high on the bluffs above the river.  Cruising on a river boat is the best way to see these castles as the boat plows upriver.

castle ruins
Nobody home here

We rode past Bacharach all the way up river to the town of Rudesheim.  In this town is a very old, narrow street called Drösselgasse.  This path has been filled with shops, restaurants, and beer gardens since the Middle Ages.  We walked up the hillside on the Drösselgasse and had an excellent late lunch in a rustic looking wine garden.

building in Rudesheim, Germany
A building on the Drosselgasse in Rudesheim, Germany

Next on our touring plan was to explore the best castle in the Rhine River area, called Burg Eltz.  This castle is actually in the nearby Mosel River Valley area, not on the Rhine.  The Mosel River is a tributary of the Rhine. We climbed out of the Rhine River Valley and crossed the Mosel.

Burg Eltz was not built by the robber barons of the Rhine.  It was built by three rich families from 1472 to 1530.  The three families each had their own section of the castle grounds.  The castle thus belonged to a community of joint heirs.  An engraving of the Burg Eltz was on a Deutschemark bill in the pre-euro Federal Republic of Germany. Marc remembered looking at this bill as a child.  Marc and Christian had never seen the Burg Eltz castle so they were eager to tour it.

The castle stands in a wooded area on top of a small hill, a few kilometers from the nearest village.  Unfortunately it was closed by the time we got there.  We drove past an area where shuttle buses ferried tourists to the castle to an overlook.  We had a fine view of the castle from this hill, however parts of the castle were covered in scaffolding and a huge crane dominated the skyline.  Renovations were underway.

Burg Eltz
Renovations at Burg Eltz

While I was peering at the castle in the distance, I noticed a man load two large dogs into a blue van inside the castle walls.  He opened a large wooden door that served as the main gate to the castle, drove the van through, and then closed and locked the door.  A few minutes later he re-appeared at the overlook.  He walked towards us yelling in a typically German way.  I guess we weren’t supposed to drive our car to the overlook.  Instead of arguing, we calmly walked back to our car, got in and drive away.  The man continued to turn red in the face and verbally blast us the whole time.  He needed to go somewhere and relax.  He was way too uptight. It’s not like we were planning to rob the place.  We were only looking at it from a distance.  Maybe he was the remaining descendant of the Kempenich family, whose part of the castle is not open to the public.

Being denied on our first attempt to tour the Burg Eltz, we tried to find a hotel to stay in for the night so that we could go back to the castle in the morning.  However, the Mosel River area is a very picturesque (and touristy) part of Germany.  It was a Saturday night on the last weekend of summer and every hotel we checked was full.  We decided to rocket back up the autobahn to home.

I’ve never been run over before.  I was lucky this time.  I pulled my sandal off to inspect it.  It looked OK.  I didn’t think it was broken.  Christian was very apologetic.

“I am so sorry, Steve,” he said. “We must take you to the hospital!”

“Uh, no.  I am not going to the hospital. That is my worst nightmare.  Don’t worry about it.  Accidents happen.  I should have gotten in the car and stayed there.”

He went back into the gas station to get some ice.  They didn’t have any ice bags so he bought some popsicles.  I rode the rest of the way home with popsicles on my foot.  It was cold, but it kept the swelling down.

I even pulled one out of the pile and ate it.

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No Escape from a Dusseldorf Parking Garage!

I had good intentions of getting up early to leave Berlin and drive to Dusseldorf, but it was past 10 am by the time we got moving.  The drive to Dusseldorf on the autobahn was uneventful and we reached the city by 3:30pm.  Unfortunately, we took the wrong turn off the freeway and had a difficult time finding Marc’s street.  I knew it was by the harbor along the Rhine River, but it was a case of “can’t get there from here” once we took the wrong turn.  His apartment is in a newly redeveloped and fashionable area of the city called “Media Harbor.”  Many advertising, TV, and publishing companies have their offices in this area.  His apartment is across the street from three bizarre looking buildings designed by American architect Frank Gehry.

ready for a night on the town in Dussledorf
On our way to a night on the town in Dusseldorf

Marc lives on the fifth floor of a modern apartment complex with a balcony and a nice view of the Rhine.  His younger brother Christoph lives on the third floor.  They are partners (along with their older brother Hans-Peter) in the electronics company started by their father.  Their plan was to walk along the waterfront to the old town of Dusseldorf.

It started raining heavily, but we ventured out anyway carrying bright yellow umbrellas with the name of their company on them (yellow is their color for all of the company promotional products).  They showed us all of the sites of Dusseldorf.  After a while the rained stopped, and we walked all over old town Dusseldorf before taking a taxi back to our hotel, which was just a couple of blocks away from their apartments.

It was entertaining to talk to them.  They have traveled to a lot of places around the world, including several countries in South America.  For dinner they took us to the RheinTurm (the Rhine Tower).  This building is a TV tower that is about 600 feet high and has a revolving restaurant near the top.  The restaurant is in the shape of a flattened donut ring and revolves around the base of the tower once per hour.  We had a fantastic view of the city and the surrounding areas in the early evening before it got dark.  We spent the next three hours eating a fine multi-course meal while slowly spinning around.

the RheinTurm view
Looking down from the RheinTurm

Our car was parked in the hotel ramp.  We had a difficult time parking the car the night before.  This ramp had narrow lanes and very small parking spaces, with cement posts every couple of spaces.  This was common in several of the parking ramps we had parked the car in during our travels.  Our car was a station wagon, relatively small by US standards, but large by European standards.  A peculiar feature of the car was that the reverse gear was attained by pushing a button on the shifter knob while simultaneously pushing the shifter into the location normally used (for American cars) for first gear.  First gear was close to the same place when pushing the shift, but without depressing the button.

When were trying to leave the ramp, we missed the automatic door opener box.  With Lisa driving, we drove up a very steep ramp to get out of the underground garage, but the door to the street wouldn’t automatically open.  I got out of the car and walked back into the parking garage to find the opener.  In the meantime, the car slide backwards down the ramp slightly.  We were in the very tough position that every driver who drives a manual transmission car dreads: starting the car and engaging first gear on a steep slope.  This car didn’t have enough power to kick in to climb the hill!  If Lisa gave it too much gas we could crash through the door.  But not enough gas stalled the car.  Which happened to her a couple of times.  Add in the crazy situation with the reverse gear and first gear and it was a difficult driving situation.  When the car slid backward at a crooked angle and stopped, the back fender rested about two inches from the garage ramp wall.  We couldn’t go backward anymore without scraping the car. I got the door opened and Lisa managed to get the car going forward, up the ramp, and out into the street.  What a relief!  Next time we drive in Europe, we’ll have to get a smaller car.  A Miata would do just fine….  Don’t know where we would put our luggage and the kids, but we would handle the parking garages better!

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